Eating Wild Mushrooms Can Be Deadly

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With the recent death of one family member and the hospitalization of five others after eating wild mushrooms they collected at a Santa Cruz County state park on New Year's Day, State Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Horton today reminded consumers that eating wild mushrooms can cause serious illness and even death.

"Because some poisonous mushrooms can look similar to non-poisonous mushrooms, wild mushrooms should not be eaten unless they have been carefully examined and determined edible by a recognized mushroom expert," Horton said.

In California, multiple hospitalizations, gastrointestinal illnesses and deaths in past years have been caused by the consumption of wild mushrooms. The deaths have been linked to the Amanita ocreata mushroom, also known as the "destroying angel," and Amanita phalloides, also known as the "death cap." These mushrooms grow in some parts of California year-round, but are most commonly found during the fall, late winter or spring months.

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"Mushroom collectors sometimes overestimate their ability to distinguish deadly mushrooms from edible mushrooms, with potentially tragic results," Horton said. "Individuals who refer to mushroom guidebooks or have families who have collected mushrooms for many years in their native countries may mistakenly believe that they can distinguish the deadly mushroom found in the Western United States from edible varieties."

Eating poisonous mushrooms can cause abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, liver damage and even death. With the deadly Amanitas, abdominal symptoms are usually delayed eight to 12 hours so victims may not initially connect their symptoms to the wild mushrooms. As the initial gastrointestinal symptoms subside, evidence of liver damage appears and some victims may suffer total liver failure and require a liver transplant to survive.

According to the California Poison Control System, 916 cases of mushroom ingestion were reported statewide in 2006. Of those cases, 534, or 58 percent, were children under 6 years of age and usually involved a bite of a mushroom the child found growing in the backyard. These children rarely developed serious toxicity. Of 370 individuals who were treated at a health care facility, 233 had a moderate health effect, such as diarrhea severe enough to require intravenous fluids, 16 were admitted to the hospital and 10 had a major health outcome, such as liver failure leading to coma, liver transplant or renal failure requiring dialysis. Typically, serious poisonings involved ingestions of a toxic mushroom mistaken for an edible one.

Individuals who develop any of these symptoms after eating wild mushrooms should immediately contact the California Poison Control System at 1-800-8-POISON (1-800-876-4766) or 1-800-222-1222 and seek medical attention.

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